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Tuesday, 14 May 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I propose to have something to say in regard to this aspect of the matter. It seems quite appropriate that only to-day, in reply to a series of questions which I had put on notice, I have received some very illuminating information regarding this question of compensation to members of the services who die in peace-time.

The CHAIRMAN - I will only allow discussion of a matter which is somewhat relevant. I shall not allow a long debate on the merits and demerits of the compensation act. I can only allow discussion of the conditions of enlistment. That is all that this clause deals with.

Mr WARD - This is a most important aspect of the conditions of enlistment, particularly to parents of trainees. If I were going to enlist in the services, one of the things I would want to know would be how the Government would treat my dependants in the event of my suffering death or injury whilst a serving member of the forces. Because of that, I think that the payment of compensation is most important.

The Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) tried to get around the issue by putting all the responsibility on to the Commissioner. If the Commissioner is tied down by the terms of the act, then it is the

Government that must accept the responsibility and not the Commissioner. It was the Labour government which first extended the Commonwealth Employees' Compensation Act to cover such cases. Previously they were given nothing at all. Labour did not remain long enough in office after the passage of the legislation to determine, as a result of experience, how it was functioning. But I have no hesitation in saying that the next Labour government will certainly look at this and materially amend the provisions to see that a greater measure of justice is done to the people affected.

Let me show to members of the House the parsimonious attitude of the Government on this question of payment of compensation. The number of members of the services who have died in peace-time is not inconsiderable. Between 1948 and 1956, 1,068 members of the forces died in peacetime. Yet all that the Government has paid in compensation in this period of nine years is £246,000. That works out at an average of £230 a person.

As I have said, I do not blame the Commissioner for Employees' Compensation for these things, because he must function within the confines of his powers under the act. One of the things that is not taken into account in determining compensation is the future assistance that the deceased person might have given to those dependent upon him. I raised in this House the case of an Air Force man who died in the Lithgow hospital from injuries received when a shell exploded during the destruction of some surplus equipment. His aged parents, to whose maintenance he had materially contributed, were unable to complete the questionnaire sent out by the commissioner. There was a considerable amount of correspondence between them and the authorities. Among other things, the parents were asked how much their son had actually contributed each week, and what was the total for each year; how it had been expended; how much of it had been spent on maintaining the boy; and how much had gone to the maintenance of the parents. Many questions of that kind were asked. When the mother said that the boy had been a very good son, and had helped his parents to purchase furnishings and other requirements for the home, the authorities asked for receipts, and for other evidence that the son had actually paid for the goods purchased. That is the sort of humiliation to which this aged couple, and others, no doubt, have been subjected by these questionnaires. It is most important that the whole procedure should be overhauled. The aged couple in question did not originally seek compensation. Eventually, they received £200.

Mr Howson - I rise to order. What relation has this discussion to the clause now before the committee? I submit that the honorable member should not be allowed to continue further with this line of discussion.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I have already ruled that discussion concerning conditions of enlistment is allowable, but the honorable member for East Sydney is now discussing conditions of compensation - a vastly different matter - and he may not continue on that line. I rule him out of order.

Mr WARD - With all due respect-

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I have ruled that the honorable member may not continue the same line of discussion.

Mr WARD - I wish only to ask you one question, Mr. Chairman: Why did you not rule previous speakers out of order? Why have you waited patiently in order to restrict your ruling to me?

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I gave the honorable member for Parkes ample opportunity to state his case, and I afforded the Minister for the Army opportunity to reply to him. I said that their remarks were somewhat irrelevant, but that I would allow the case to be stated, and the Minister to reply to it. But we must now get back to the clause. I think that I have given a fair ruling.

Mr WARD - I think that you have ruled me out of order merely because I was embarrassing the Government.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member may not canvass my ruling. He may not proceed with his remarks if he is not going to discuss conditions of enlistment.

Mr WARD - I regard the matters that I was discussing as conditions of enlistment.

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The Chair rules otherwise.

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